The Thanksgiving dish I hate to love
By Rebecca Huehls
Mashed sweet potatoes topped with browned marshmallows is a traditional Thanksgiving dish in my family. I remember my grandma carrying the hot, foil-covered, 9-x-13-inch glass baking dish, set in a silver rack with scalloped handles and a filigree pattern around the sides. Each Thanksgiving since my grandma died (when I was 11, almost 12), my mom has made the dishes that my grandma used to bring. The problem for me is that, while I want to keep my grandma’s spirit alive at the Thanksgiving table, I hate this dish (and I’m not alone). It’s too gooey and too sweet. All that sugar seems to ruin a perfectly good root vegetable. My glycemic levels go up and I need a glass of water just thinking about it.
But who am I to break family tradition? Who am I to reject a dish that I loved as a child, idealizing my grandma as a perfect human being full of snuggles and sugary treats who wanted nothing more in life than to read and play board games with me? Maybe my grandma didn’t even like the dish herself, but made it to coax her sugar-crazed children and later grandchildren into eating orange vegetables. Maybe she made it because her own mother made it, her mother whom she lost to cancer when she was only 14 years old, in the middle of the Great Depression, leaving her the only young woman in a house of men, in the middle of horrible acne, in the days of owning only one dress, and planting potatoes in the yard. Maybe something so sugary was a luxury then, a way for her to remain a bit of a kid. (Indeed, innovations in manufacturing marshmallows made them a popular item in 1930s America, especially at potlucks.)
I wish I could ask my grandma about her story with this dish. Instead, this year, I’ll attempt to make it so I can carry on the tradition to my nephew and niece, 9 and 3 years old respectively, and sure to enjoy all that sugar.